I have an inexplicable fondness for frozen chocolate chip cookies. It started when I was little, and Mom would bag and freeze a portion of every drop cookie batch after baking to keep for company. Instead, I'd snack on those reserved cookies straight from the freezer.
To this day, I often go for frozen cookies over the gooey, just-baked version. Maybe it's the satisfaction of the chalky crunch of those cold chips or the more cumbersome chew of the usually soft center, I wondered aloud to Pam Weekes and Connie MacDonald, co-owners of Levain Bakery, the popular bakery on Manhattan's Upper West Side that started selling its prebaked, frozen cookies nationwide at Whole Foods Market this spring.
"A warm cookie is absolutely amazing, but for me I enjoy a room-temp or a cold cookie, too. It allows you to appreciate different textures," said Weekes, assuring me this was a judgment-free cookie zone.
There might be no two people better versed in the countless ways to love a cookie than Weekes and MacDonald, whose diminutive bakery is famous for its hulking cookies with a soft middle and crispy exterior. We spent much of our conversation nerding out over different ways to eat their iconic handhelds, from grilling them to serving them ala mode like pie to sandwiching them with toasted marshmallows or ice cream. (In case you're wondering, both say their favorite way to eat cookies is with a side of ice cream.)
Levain wasn't always a cookie destination. MacDonald and Weekes opened the bakery 26 years ago on West 74th St. as mainly a bread bakery; they started making small batches of chocolate chip walnut cookies when the shop was slow. Then one unassuming Tuesday evening, in October 1997, as the pair worked alone in the bakery, the phone rang.
Pam and Connie (photo credit to Melissa Kirschenheiter)
"It was [food writer and cookbook author] Amanda Hesser, who was at the time a very young, unknown writer," MacDonald recalled. "She was calling to write about the cookies for the 'Temptations' column in the [The New York Times] food section. And we were like, [both chimed in at this point] 'Wow.'"
The piece extolling Levain's "virtual mountain of a cookie" came out the following morning. And ever since, customers have lined up out the door and down the block for Levain's fat, gooey chocolate chip walnut, oatmeal raisin and dark chocolate chocolate chip cookies.
As Levain ascended, Weekes and MacDonald mulled viable ways to keep growing in a positive way.
"We thought, wouldn't it be amazing — if people liked the cookies that much — to get them into grocery stores?" Weekes recalled.
It would take several years and a veritable army to get there. At first, the duo experimented with a shelf-stable version, but it didn't have the same texture as the cookies straight from the bakery. Then they remembered that whenever customers from out of state would stock up on cookies to take home and ask the best way to keep them, they would "always tell them to freeze them," MacDonald said. As it turned out, fully baked frozen cookies also offered the closest experience to coming to the bakery.
Overhead shot of cookies (Photo credit to Heather Winters)
"Above all, we're trying to keep that tie to the bakery experience," Weekes said.
If the freezer cookies take off, Levain hopes to offer other products like cake and brioche in the frozen aisle. For now, they're getting accustomed to the surreal feeling of seeing their beloved cookies on the freezer shelf at Whole Foods Markets across America and ringing phones.
"Friends we haven't heard from in a little while will send us a picture in front of the freezers in the grocery store," Weekes said. "It's nice to have something so happy going on."
The 2-ounce retail version is smaller than the monstrous cookie you'd get at the bakery, but I was immediately transported to that little subterranean storefront as I bit through the crisp shell to that moist center with oozing chocolate chips. Admittedly, Levain's cookies are a bit thick to chomp into frozen, though it's sparked my latest obsession: blasting them in the toaster oven on the highest temp just long enough for the outside to go golden, while the middle remains blessedly frozen. (Remember, this is a judgment-free cookie zone.)
On that note, behold some of Weekes' and MacDonald's favorite ways to eat (and heat) their freezer-aisle cookies:
Ice cream sandwiches
Heat up your cookies. Using a tablespoon, scoop your favorite ice cream flavor atop a cookie, then gently place the other cookie on top of the ice cream to create your sandwich. (Pro tip: If you're making ice cream sandwiches for a crowd, spread the ice cream on a parchment-lined sheet tray, freeze it and use a 2 1/2-inch cookie or biscuit cutter to create ice cream "pucks" that are easily placed between cookies.
Mini cookies ala mode
Heat up your cookies, and slice them in half. Hand your friends a bowl and a selection of ice creams and sorbet, plus a variety of toppings — dulce de leche, chocolate syrup, dark chocolate shavings, cocoa nibs, salty caramel — and let them go to town. A few pairings from Weekes' and MacDonald:
- Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip with mint ice cream or mocha chip ice cream
- Two Chip Chocolate Chip with rhubarb or strawberry sorbet
- Oatmeal Raisin with cinnamon ice cream
- Classic Chocolate Chip Walnut with classic vanilla bean
Warm two frozen cookies (Weekes and MacDonald suggest chocolate chip walnut or dark chocolate chocolate chip), and place a full-size marshmallow (fresh or roasted) between the cookies. To amp up the chocolate even more, place a couple squares of your favorite chocolate bar on the warmed cookie.
And when it's too damn hot to turn on the oven, heat your frozen cookies on the grill.
For the best results, time when your cookies go on so that it's at the beginning or end of your grilling session; 350 degrees is the ideal temperature.
1. Place the individual cookies, frozen, on aluminum foil. (Tip: For crispy on the outside cookies, ooey-gooey in the center cookies, create a foil bed for the cookie rather than enclosing it.)
2. As the grill heats up to temperature or cools down from cooking dinner, put the cookies on the coolest part of the grill for 3-5 minutes for 350 degrees. (If you have a warming rack, that's a great spot, too!)
3. Using tongs or a spatula, remove the cookies from the grill and place on a cooling rack. Let cool for a few minutes, and enjoy.
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- My 10-year carbonara journey
- A love letter to all the produce I haven't picked
- The nourishing joy of simmered whole chicken
- At Bombera, Oakland's Chicano cooking heritage is the future
- Do not rage-cook mapo tofu, and other emotional kitchen lessons
- Tortilla española, mi cariño: An ode to the simple, perfect Spanish omelet
- My favorite, simplest eggplant parm (Yep, this recipe is as easy as it gets!)
- Let's griddle every sandwich, from ham and cheese to peanut butter and honey